There were plenty of things to cheer about the 1956 Hollywood blockbuster murder mystery, The Man Who Knew Too Much. A classic of its genre, the film was directed by the maestro himself, Alfred Hitchcock, and starred the debonair James Stewart and the charming Doris Day in lead roles. After 63 years of its release however, the one feature of the film that probably resonates even with today’s generation, is the song Qué Será, Será (Whatever will be, will be). The song is an integral part of the film, elevating Doris Day to superstardom and providing a reverberating soundtrack to our lives. The singing star passed away a few weeks ago, and many of us set our time machines back to 1956, singing that song over and over again in our heads. Social media is buzzing with the video clip of Doris Day’s song sequence from the film.
This set off a train of thought. What were the other great songs from Hollywood’s oeuvre that could match the immense popularity of Qué Será, Será? For the purposes of this discussion, I exclude musicals like The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady for the simple reason that those films were, by definition, woven around a musical idea with the express purpose of providing songs from beginning to end for the public’s delectation. Ergo, ‘musicals.’ For the same reason, one could exclude most Indian films where song and dance sequences are integral. So here’s my list of films where a single song or tune defined the film and captivated audiences the world over. This is a highly subjective, personalised collection, in no chronological order. You can add your own favourites. Many great songs may be conspicuous by their absence, either due to memory lapse on my part and space constraints. Pardonnez moi!
James Cameron’s 1997 mega blockbuster Titanic, literally rode on the crest of a Leonardo DiCaprio / Kate Winslet wave, shattering box office records worldwide. However, it is Canadian pop star Celine Dion’s soundtrack theme song, My Heart Will Go On that was, and still is, on everybody’s lips. In my partying days in Calcutta, no late night bash was complete without someone, probably drunk, murdering this wonderful song!
The 1991 runaway hit Robin Hood : Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman, featured another Canadian superstar, singer songwriter Bryan Adams delivering the theme song, Everything I Do (I Do It For You). The song and the singer received an Academy Award nomination for this very hummable song.
Sidney Poitier won all our hearts in the 1967 British teacher / student relationship film with racial undertones (or should that be overtones?), To Sir with Love, delivering a much acclaimed performance. British pop singer, moon faced Lulu, plays a small part in the film, but it is her rendering of the eponymous title song that had the pop charts and the airwaves in the ‘60s swaying to this melodic if somewhat mushy number, over and over again.
Still staying with the ‘60s, the 1965 raunchy comedy, Alfie, introduced me to the delightful Cockney accent of Michael Caine, an endearing and much-mimicked affectation he pretty much stuck with in most of his films. American singer Cher, renders the title song, What’s it all about, Alfie? over the closing credits of the film, which later on became a huge hit for British pop star, Cilla Black. The song title also became an existential catchphrase - ‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’
In the 1989 family drama film, Immediate Family, starring the peerless Glenn Close, I began to truly appreciate the multi-faceted song writing talent of Irish troubadour, singer songwriter, Van Morrison. His 1971 composition, the ineffable Into the Mystic, is a recurring theme in the film. At once mystical and magical, the song is a soaring celebration of nature mysticism. I am now a confirmed Van fan, thanks to that one song. Let your soul and spirit fly, into the mystic.
Harry Nillson is not a name that instantly rings a bell, but his rendition of Everybody’s Talkin’, which was featured in John Schlesinger’s brilliant 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, made him a household name. Starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, the film is embellished by this upbeat number.
Simon and Garfunkel wrote and recorded the wonderful Mrs. Robinson for the film The Graduate, with Dustin Hoffman and the amazing Anne Bancroft, an elderly lady of leisure who sets out to seduce the fresh-out of-college Hoffman. Sophisticated lyrics, beautifully composed make Mrs. Robinson a memorable song.
Instrumental tunes specially composed for films have also been singularly noteworthy. The James Bond films, with their distinct theme tune, spring to mind. As does the theme music for The Godfather trilogy. There are several others. My personal favourite in the instrumental genre must surely be Zorba’s Dance from the 1964 smash hit, Zorba the Greek, starring Anthony Quinn and Alan Bates, composed by Mikis Theodorakis. The
distinctly Mediterranean melody with the mandolin and bouzouki predominant, starts off real slow and gradually raises its tempo to conclude in an ecstatic crescendo. The unforgettable Quinn and Bates dancing to this melody is one of the film’s great moments.
The 1934 Clark Gable starrer, Manhattan Melodrama, went largely unnoticed, but for a ballad, Blue Moon, featured in a nightclub sequence. Until the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and other crooners of that era covered it extensively, turning the song into a legendary standard. Blue Moon continues to be a favourite among present day stars’ repertoire.
So there it is, an off-the-cuff, top of mind selection of songs from Hollywood films that left an indelible mark on me. I would have loved to have included songs like Ol’Man River and Somewhere over the Rainbow, but they did not qualify as per the criteria I had laid down at the top of this piece. Meanwhile, R.I.P. Doris Day and thanks for the memories.
(The author is a brand consultant with an interest in music, cricket, humour and satire)...